Sunday, August 21, 2011

On Family Trees

Greg at work on the "Family Tree"
Babies look remarkably alike and remarkably different.

I spent the past week looking at a lot of old pictures. The professor I'm research assistant for is a scholar of hyperlocal photography--specifically focusing on the work of small-town Mississippi photographer named Pruitt. I also spent a lot of time in the Missouri journalism buildings, looking at the great profile pictures of past professors, deans and distinguished students for the first time. Since Missouri was the first school of journalism, those pictures go back quite a ways.

When I look at those photos, I'm struck how certain looks just seemed to disappear. When you look at pictures of square-jawed guys from the World War II, I wonder--what happened to that look? Maybe it does it exist, but the context has changed so much that they don't seem to. Or is it really gone? Evolved out of us.

Mimi's great creative project for the baby's room has been to create a "family tree" on the wall--the interesting aspect is that all of the pictures are baby pictures. Usually, when you see pictures of people in your family whether your grandparents, great-grandparents or otherwise, it's at a certain stage in their life. Usually surrounding the age when they had children or grandchildren (because that's when the most photographs are taken). But looking at baby pictures is such an interesting exercise. Who knew I had my maternal grandfathers ears? (At least the top part looks the same--see right).

Equally interesting was the search for these pictures--because in some cases no photos exist. My grandmother and grandfather both grew up in farming families in New Brunswick. My grandfather was one of three children, and thus there were two baby photos. My grandmother was one of twelve children, (and thus there were no baby photos).

The process made me think a lot about the people on the wall who will never see it. My grandfather and grandmother on my dad's side were amazing people. So brave. When my dad (the youngest of seven) was only two, they packed up and moved to Chicago, IL because that's where the work was. Leaving Grand Falls, New Brunswick meant leaving all the people they'd ever loved and known for place that must have been scary and a great unknown.

They don't make people like that anymore. Certain kinds of people disappear too. 

My grandfather on my mother's side was a man I never met but would liked to have. My grandmother gets quiet when she describes him--his family had been quite rich prior to the Great Depression and lost most everything. My family describes him is as if he was a man from another era who wasn't quite sure what to do in the middle of the 20th century. I wonder if he felt like the world had moved on from him?

Maybe it's not the people who disappear but the world that moves on without them.

This is far too serious a blog entry. On a lighter note--how about some pictures of the Family Tree!?

Me with the family tree, pointing out my place.
Note the empty spot for Little Miss P.
I really like the idea that our little girl
will get to grow up with this great history
above her.


Blair said...

Impressive tree! Good vision on your wife's part, good execution on your part!

DA said...

Of all the pictures, you still win for the "babiest" face, Greg.

Bring back the sideburns!